Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: 'The Zaucer of Zilk' by Brendan McCarthy and Al Ewing

Like any medium, there are certain things that comics can do that other forms of entertainment can't.  The way pages are constructed and the interplay between the written and visual aspects can make for something really special.  Things like Grant Morrison's Animal Man walking between comic panels.  Morrison is an apt example, because reading Brendan McCarthy and Al Ewing's The Zaucer of Zilk will probably evoke thoughts of Morrison.  It's weird and zany and thoughtful and literate enough to be something of Morrison's (not to mention some images will make you think of his frequent collaborator Frank Quitely).  Simply calling The Zaucer of Zilk Morrison-esque doesn't do it justice; you'd have to throw in The Wizard of Oz, Yellow Submarine, Peter Pan, maybe even a hint of Slaughterhouse-Five and a dash of verbose early Marvel Stan Lee narration, and you'll start approaching what The Zaucer of Zilk really is.

Brendan McCarthy's art will most likely, perhaps deservedly, get the most focus when discussing The Zaucer of Zilk.  And really, it's exhilarating.  The story is a wild ride and McCarthy makes sure you get to see every wonderful bit of it.  We start in a dreary rain-soaked city but you'll be just as drawn in as when the Zaucer returns to the neon rainbow land of Zilk.  Dimension-hopping fancy pants will make sense, you'll feel for young Tutu as she's trapped in Dankendreer, and you'll be wondering where you can get your hands on the Zaucer's stylish yellow and blue suit.  No detail is left wanting and the art is fluid, dynamic, and perfectly fits the tone for every single scene.

Even though McCarthy's art takes center stage, the story, by both McCarthy and Al Ewing, does its job keeping up.  Just as you're introduced to one absurd idea it's already moved onto the next.  The narrator, who speaks directly to the reader, literally becomes his own character.  Seeds of the plot are planted and left to be revealed in the next issue, making for an intriguing storyline.  You'll spend as much time working over the made up words and alliterative sentences as you will the psychadelic art, which to me is the calling of a truly great comic.

The Zaucer of Zilk is, at its core, a hero's story in the classic sense: the hero himself, a magical item, a villain, a sidekick and mentor.  It's about his journey emotionally, physically, and metaphysically.  But layered on top of that there's so much more.  It's also a story about heroes.  It's a love letter to stories, comics in particular.  It takes a critical look at pop culture and entertainment and questions celebrity status.  There's a lot to dissect, and it looks so good that you won't have any problem doing so.

Comics, sometimes unfairly, are often associated only with superheroes.  There can be a sense of stagnation, of frustration, of confusion.  But The Zaucer of Zilk shows that they can be so much more.  Heck, you can even look at the Zaucer as a superhero of sorts, with his abilities and costume and mask and alter-egos ("Never-Grow-Old"), and that shows that even superheroes don't have to be as routine as many feel they've become.  Add that in with superb art and writing and you can't help but feel that The Zaucer of Zilk might just usher in a new age of heroes and be exactly what the industry needs.


  1. McCarthy has often been cited as the invisible influence on Morrison. I have been reading brendan McCarthy's stuff with Peter Milligan for years, and it is some of the best comics I've seen.

  2. I'm not as familiar with McCarthy's work as I'd like to be (especially compared to Morrison's and Milligan's) but I can definitely see a similar thread based on my small sample size. I'll have to hunt down some more of McCarthy's stuff and check it out. Thanks for sharing!

  3. apparently, there's a compendium of brendan mccarthy and peter milligan's stuff together (rogan gosh, freakwave, paradax, sooner or later {please please})... Zenith was designed by Brendan McCarthy, but written by Morrison, and one sees his work with Milligan being pilfered ruthlessly...

    such is life